Tuesday, January 16, 2018

As the dust settles


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Election campaigns can be bruising and Saturday's internal elections of the United National Congress were no different in this regard. What was significant, however, was the spotlight it threw on schisms inside the UNC itself, and those between the UNC and the Congress of the People.

Coming on the heels of the ultimatum given to the Government by another of its partners, the Movement for Social Justice, the national community would have good reason to worry about the stability of a government that has so far demonstrated its inability to settle down and work with a level of consistency and purpose.

As far as the UNC goes, the election did settle some things, the most critical of which was the position of Jack Warner within the Persad-Bissessar Cabinet. In running as an independent against a slate promoted by the PM's pick for her successor, Mr Warner sent a powerful signal of his personal and political strength within the party that she leads.

They might have been smiling before the cameras, but the political leader and the chairman of the UNC are now on a course with a potential for conflict at the least, and explosion at the worst. This alliance between the PM and her party chairman has been tricky from very early in the government when the PM called an investigation into the contract of an award at the airport. The scenario has been played out several times since then with the PM blowing hot and cold on her maverick minister who enjoys a troubling combination of great popularity and wide public distrust.

In the context of the UNC election results, Mr Warner has been returned to the party chairmanship with the confidence to push back against encroachments on his authority within the UNC power structure. Exactly what the implications of this re-alignment of power means, only time will tell. But given the experience of the NAR in 1988 and the UNC in 2001, it would surprise no one if the country were to enter a new period of heightened political tension.

One source of problem is likely to come from within the cabinet where senior members now have to face a resurgent Warner armed with a ringing endorsement from the party's rank and file after having gone public with their distrust and condemnation of him during the campaign.

Added to this is the distrust that erupted between the UNC and COP over the nomination of former COP member Marlene Coudray for the position of deputy political leader of the UNC.

All this comes at a time when the country needs a cohesive, efficient and effective cabinet, not a tension-riddled team looking distracted by its own partisan problems.

Not for the first time, the country needs the Prime Minister to demonstrate a quality of leadership with the capacity to bring real meaning to the much-touted concept of the political partnership.